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From farm to fair

Bernice Wenzel, standing, and Margaret Fletcher are pictured with the 1941 John Deere Model B tractor Fletcher drives in the county fair's daily tractor parades. Fletcher's father bought the tractor from Wenzel's father when the two men worked adjoining farms in Rich Valley.

Bernice Wenzel and Margaret Fletcher have been having fun together for as long as either of them can remember.

The pair grew up on adjoining farms in Rich Valley, and their fathers were good friends who served together on the school board in what was then District 20. Wenzel and Fletcher played together. They showed animals at the Dakota County Fair together as members of the Happy Go Getters 4-H club. They might even have gotten in a little trouble together.

Not a lot. Just girls having fun.

"We used to have a lot of fun together on Sundays, riding bikes," Fletcher said.

"We weren't too destructive," Wenzel added. "We thought we were bad once in a while."

These days, Wenzel and Fletcher are reliving a bit of their youth on the farm through the Dakota County Fair's daily tractor parades. Fletcher has taken part in the parade for the past five years, Wenzel for four. Both drive John Deere tractors they drove when they were girls, and that were restored in recent years.

Wenzel got things started. Her husband and her son restored the 1941 John Deere Model B she drives today. The tractor used to belong to her father, who bought it used from Wenzel's father. Fletcher put in plenty of time on that tractor or others like it when she was growing up.

Wenzel's tractor, a 1959 John Deere 730, also belonged to her father.

"We've always had that tractor," she said. "I decided to get it restored about five years ago. Then I remembered this parade down here."

Wenzel said Fletcher might have had a role in reminding her of the fair's parade, which circles Dakota City Heritage Village daily and makes occasional detours into other parts of the fair.

Wenzel, who is 78, and Fletcher, 77, are among just a handful of women who drive in the parade, although the number of women is increasing. Most of the women who bring tractors to the fair are younger than they are.

Both women enjoy their time at the fair, and they enjoy the parades. They believe the people who watch them roll past enjoy the tractors, too. Little kids wave, and everybody seems to smile at the old-fashioned farm equipment, all of which seems tiny now in an era of massive combines.

When the tractors were still in service on Wenzel's and Fletcher's farm much of the heavy plowing work was still done with teams of horses.

Wenzel and Fletcher said they enjoy the camaraderie involved in bringing their tractors to the fair. They joke with other tractor owners about which brand is better.

"Why are John Deeres green and yellow?" Wenzel asks Fletcher. "So they can hide in the ditch when the Farmalls go by."

Wenzel and Fletcher show up for just about every parade during the fair. They're still having fun together.

"If we're going to sit here on a day like this, you know we are," Wenzel said.